So, what kind of groundwork should you do with a gaited horse? Should you lunge a gaited horse? How often should you do groundwork? How do you connect with a new horse? I try to answer these questions in this video. Here is the ground work video with the grey mare: https://youtu.be/WNtxAfA4-CM
How do I even start this article? I have so many ideas floating around in my head right now. What is love? Is it a feeling? Is it an act of the will? Can it apply to horses? Are there parallels between God’s love for us and my love for a horse?
What is love?
“Love is an act of the will accompanied by emotion that leads to action on behalf of its object.” ~Voddie Baucham
I have a tendency to try to overpower things and to dictate. I try not to let my feelings get involved. Yet this tendency is not always helpful.
I had this mare for training. I started by “explaining” to her how things were going to be. She promptly showed me that she was a lot bigger and did not like my agenda. I tried to “tell” her to be calm, and she showed me she had more patience than I did. I tried to show her that the rope wasn’t scary; she showed me she didn’t believe me.
Here I was, trying to force my will, my thoughts, on her and she wasn’t agreeing. I needed to take a step back. Why was she distancing herself from me? It took a while, but I think I figured it out. I did not love her; she was not my horse and I wasn’t even trying communicate that I cared for her, that she was more to me, more than just something to tame.
I realized I had to change that.
I started by just going to her, rubbing her forehead and being content. I would rub her gently and firmly. Then I began endotapping her, with the intention of feeling and being calm and relaxed myself. There was progress. Where before, she would stare off into the distance and hold herself aloof, now she would look back at me. She would allow me to rub her forehead and allow me to help her to relax.
Then while I was down in the round pen with her, as I was thinking about love, and God’s unconditional love toward us, I realized that I needed to love this horse that God had given me stewardship over (just for a little while). This horse had not done anything for me, but I was to show her compassion and understanding, just as God does for us.
I went down to her and prayed that God would give me a love for this horse. That it wouldn’t just be an action or a choice, but that it would be a feeling, a state of being. In that moment, I felt God’s love for me and how much He has forgiven me. After that, I felt an affection for this horse and I think it really helped us to connect. I left her halter and lead rope off. I endotapped her and worked with her (and myself) to just relax.
Then I was able to throw the rope over her, without her moving, and then saddle her up, with her staying calm and relaxed. She could have left whenever she wanted, but she was much happier to be with me today. I felt such a joy just being with her. Me being me and her being her. No agenda and no set plan. Just living.
We had a nice day of training and relaxing. What a difference attitude and thoughts can make. A lot of the “training” took place doing nothing other than thinking about being relaxed. I would look away from her, listen to the birds, feel the wind on my face, and try to really feel my weight on my feet. It seems to have a lot to do with being in the moment and living in the here and now (Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling).
I wanted to love this horse. I can’t just tell the horse I love you or do something for the horse so that she will know. I wanted to see if my feelings toward a horse could influence how the horse reacted. There was a change, but I can’t say how the change came about.
I think of how God loves us. We don’t seek Him. He must first seek us. We are resistant, sinful, rebellious, and unknowing of what can be a beautiful relationship. Is that not what we do with horses? We take horses who would rather have nothing to do with us and try to show them the joy of a horse/human bond, but they resist, they run away, and they are fearful of anything we try to do with them. We must be patient and lovingly seek them and allow them to come to us. Sure, we could throw a rope around them, tie them to a post, and jump on, but this will not give them a chance to love back.
So my prayer is that God would teach me to love as He loves.
Thanks for putting up with my ramblings. ❤
”It would be easier to count all the stars in the heavens or each grain of sand on the earth, than to measure or even seek to describe the love of God” Paul Washer
I use ground poles to help break up a pacey horse’s lateral gait. Pacey means the two legs on one side swing forward together or nearly together. Many gaited horses tend to the pacey or lateral type of gaits. This is often caused by tense horses, but even relaxed horses can be pacey. Once we get a horse to relax, the next thing I do is use poles to change a lateral gait to more of an even 4 beat gait.
So what do I use for a pole? Many things can be used from PVC pipe, to fence posts, to wooden logs. However, for really pacey horses, you need something that they really need to step over, so you want something 10-12 inches high and the heavier and more solid it is, the better.
How many poles do I use? I almost always start with 1 or 2 and rarely do I go more than two. Only a couple times do I use 4 poles. Usually, if I have to use 4 poles, I only use them for a few days and only with a horse that is extremely pacey and low headed. I would recommend that you start with 1 pole and begin the pole work once you have gotten the other prerequisites down (I discuss this in my first dvd). See how your horse does with 1 pole. If there is no change, try 2 poles or a higher pole, such as a log, fence post, or cavaletti.
How far apart do I space them if I use more than 1 pole? It depends on the horse. In many ways, this isn’t a science. The goal is to get the horse to change the pattern of his footfalls. For many horses, this just means getting them to have to move their feet differently to avoid stepping on the poles. For taller horses, use poles that are farther apart. I usually start with the poles 8-10 feet apart.
How long are my sessions of pole work? It depends on the horse’s progress, but most are less than 30 minutes of actual pole work and many are less than 20 minutes. Some end up being only 5 minutes long if the horse makes progress after struggling for a while. You know your horse and you don’t want him to get frustrated. This is very easy to do, even for me. Take time to break up the pole work with relaxation training, backing up, standing still, and whatever other things your horse knows how to do.
You can put them in different parts of your work space. You can try placing them on different inclines, taking your horse uphill over them, then downhill over them, to see what helps your horse the best.
If you find a spot or direction that seems to help your horse gait better, then go over that spot as much as you can early on. Later on, we want to ask in lots of different place, but initially, we want to make it as easy for the horse as we can.
Remember that you need to have the prerequisites done before you work on the poles. Your horse MUST be able to give you vertical flexion (bringing the nose toward the chest) with light pressure and MUST be able to drop his head and relax.
When you first start training your horse with the ground poles, make sure walk over them the first few times, or more if he is afraid of them. As you progress through your training, continue taking time to walk over them rather than gait over them every time. You do not have to gait every time your horse goes over the poles. You would rather wait until he is relaxed and ready, then ask him to go forward.
Using poles is not the magic button that will make your horse gait, but it is my favorite tool to use with pacey horses to break up the pace and get a smooth gait. Some horses will become smoother in a day and some will take 3-4 weeks to really start gaiting. Every horse is different and it is your job to figure out what helps your horse the most.
A friend of mine and I were talking about how every interaction with a horse is a win or a loss. I began disagreeing with her. I said that if you make training sessions about winning or losing, black or white, then you set yourself up to fail. If it comes down to you or your horse, you can never win unless you dominate your horse to make sure you never lose.
However, after talking about it some more, we both concluded that what we really meant was that each day was an opportunity to win or lose… for you. It is all about you! You have the opportunity to win or lose in each situation. Your attitude and your response to your horse’s actions determines the outcome. Even if you seemed to make little or no progress, if you stayed focused, relaxed, and calm and kept your horse that way… you WIN!
If, however, you allow the horse’s reactions to trigger emotions of anger, frustration, and failure, you have just lost the battle, no matter what your horse does. You cannot necessarily control your horse’s actions and reactions, but you can control yours.
So, yes, horse training is about winning and losing, but it is not necessarily a contest of wills between you and your horse, but it is about your willingness to control your actions and your attitude no matter what your horse does.
Every interaction with your horse is an opportunity for you to win, an opportunity to prove to your horse that you are a trustworthy leader and a safe companion. This can only happen when you are able to be content with yourself and with your horse, no matter what happens. This is what winning is all about!